Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Can we get Socialism through Parliament? (1930)

From the July 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Communist Party was formed some ten years ago, it absorbed elements which changed their names without thereby abandoning their illusions. One of the most obstinate of these was the notion that because the machinery of government is controlled now by those who use it to maintain capitalist domination, an attempt on the part of the workers to capture Parliament and use it for revolutionary ends is foredoomed to failure. In support of this view, we are frequently offered the phrase of Marx, “The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes." (“Civil War in France," p. 28. Labour Publishing Co.'s Edn.)

In the volume in question, Marx was dealing with a particular experience of the working class of Paris, the memorable Commune of 1871.

“Paris," said Marx, “had risen in arms against the attempt of Thiers and the Rurals to restore and perpetuate that old governmental power bequeathed to them by the Empire. Paris could resist only because in consequence of the siege it had got rid of the army and replaced it by a National Guard, the bulk of whom consisted of working men. This fact was now to be transformed into an institution. The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.” (p. 30.)

This same standing army forms, along with the State police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature, one of the principal pillars of the State handed down by absolute monarchy to its Republican successors. Marx uses quite a lot of space in showing that the reason why these same Republicans required an instrument of oppression was that they represented an exploiting class, the modern capitalist class; while the working class, having no class beneath it to oppress, could but rid itself of this part of the State machinery as of a burden.

It is curious to note, in view of all this, that the Communist Party claims Russia as an example of how to achieve working-class emancipation; a country, that is, where these pillars of the State (standing army, political police, bureaucracy, law officers, etc.) still exist in full vigour. One would imagine, if one took the declamations of “ Communists" seriously, that Socialism consists of the domination of the workers over the capitalists; as though the former could “exploit" or in some other way make use of the latter. The fact that Russian society cannot at present dispense with the capitalists is the clearest possible proof of the economical, political and mental backwardness of that country, and the limited scope for working-class activity. The last thing that Marx intended to imply by his oft-quoted statement was that Socialism could be imposed upon a nation of peasants by means of a “Red Army"!

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has pointed out from its foundation in its declared principles that the existing State is “an instrument of oppression" which only the conscious political action of the organised working-class could “convert into an agent of emancipation.” In other words, we have always advdcated revolutionary political action. The latter-day “Communists,” however, do not understand the meaning of this term. They do not appreciate the fact that revolution necessitates gaining control of the existing political machinery, not its mere destruction and the creation of something new out of nothing. Marx says, for instance, on page 32 : “While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society; instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business . . .  Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture."

Marx, above all people, had none of the anarchists' contempt for “counting noses.” Nor did he share the delusion that the revolution could be achieved merely by punching noses (!) at the command of self-appointed leaders. In their desperate scramble to remain within the shelter of Lenin’s mantle the “Communists" of this and other countries have poured scorn upon voting, as a mere capitalist snare, without putting forward any alternative which would bear five minutes' intelligent scrutiny.

Society can no more dispense with administrative machinery than it can do without the material means of living. It is quite easy and quite correct, at present, to describe a factory as a capitalist instrument, seeing that it is an institution for extracting profit from the labour of the workers therein. Those who advocate organisation by factory committees overlook this; but even they would hesitate to say, "Let us smash the factories of the employers and set up factories of our own.”

Yet such a proposal would be quite as sane as the suggestion that we should destroy the State by means of "workers' councils" responsible to nobody but themselves. The publicly-elected administrative bodies are capitalist machines only so long as the workers regard capitalism as the necessary form of society. They can be converted into means of establishing Socialism so soon as the workers (i.e., the majority of the electors) realise its necessity.

This does not mean that every detail of industrial activity will be regulated by bureaucrats in Whitehall; but it does mean that the social revolution will be an organic development, not a mere chaotic breakdown. The class-conscious organisation of the workers has everything to gain and nothing to lose by democratic methods. Its development is in fact unthinkable without them, and when we are told that representative institutions, such as the ballot-box, are merely barometers, we smile.

Can one alter the political atmosphere by smashing the barometer?

The "Communists"take revenge for their rejection at the polls by denouncing polling as "a bourgeois device for deluding the workers," and then call on the latter to try conclusions with police-baton, and the only things that get smashed are the workers’ heads.

We of the Socialist Party suggest that these latter can be put to better use. We have sufficient confidence in their contents to believe that they are capable of assimilating the Socialist message, and our whole policy is shaped accordingly.
Eric Boden

The "Paid Agitator" Again (1943)

Editorial from the November 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the capitalist class (who preach the virtues of selling anything for as high a price as can be got) want to discredit critics of their system they trot out the stories about discontent being created by paid agitators. Abraham Lincoln. who met the same thing from the defenders of slavery, ridiculed them by saying that when a slave cried out because the slave-ganger had hit him with a whip, the defenders of slavery always hastened to explain that the slave had only been put up to it by some rascally agitator. We hold no brief for. the followers of Trotsky, but we notice a curious contradiction in the complaints of the capitalist press about the Trotskyites, who are alleged to have had a hand in recent strikes. The Daily Mail (October 7th, 1943) got their industrial correspondent to investigate, and he found that “they live and work in poverty." The People (October 3rd, 1943), in an article dealing with the strikes, and announcing that the use of Regulation 18B may be considered, referred to strikes “fanned by highly paid political agitators" (italics ours). This presumably also referred to the Trotskyites, though it did not mention them by name. May we recall Abraham Lincoln and suggest that workers do not strike unless they are discontented, and they do not need to be put up to it by agitators, low paid, highly paid, or unpaid.

Incidentally, we notice that many appeals go out from the B.B.C. to Germany and the occupied countries, urging the workers to strike and organise sabotage. Will The People assure us that these broadcasters (also their own correspondent who discovered the highly paid agitators) give their services for nothing.

Workers' Responsibilities (1925)

From the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the end of 1918 there have been numerous appeals by our masters and their agents through the columns of the daily Press to the working class to cease waging a struggle on the industrial field for improved conditions. Have they not told us of their grave difficulties through the world economic crisis, and their endeavour on our behalf to obtain contracts—even at a loss— in order to give us work?

They have reminded us of the “brotherly” feeling prevalent during the war and in the trenches, and exhorted us to live it all over again in the “piping times of peace."

Objections are sometimes raised that the Socialist Party is too destructive in its criticisms of the part played by the officials of the Trade Union movement and the leaders of the Parliamentary Labour Party, but any worker recognising the conflict of interests between the capitalist class and the workers realises there can be no community of interests between the robber and the robbed. Trade Union officials who urge the working class to consider the interests of the exploiters are without doubt the enemies of the exploited.

Just recently a small journal was handed to the writer, from which he extracts the following:—
"In addressing a meeting of women workers at York, Miss Margaret Bondfield, M.P. (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour), gave such good advice that we are printing it for the advantage of our readers.
"She said, as a trade unionist, she must urge them to take a full share in the responsibility for the success of the business. The times in which we lived were times of great seriousness to business people. In that factory they had an opportunity of sharing, through their Works Council, in the responsibility for the success of the business. It was a matter of definitely making up their minds to give a certain amount of thought to their work. Their employers desired to make the business a great contributing fact to the welfare of the country, and were trying to get away front the old idea that the only justification for business was to make money for certain members of the firm.
"Then there was the tremendously important matter of their own personal development. It was not merely a question of how to earn their daily bread, but how to use their leisure time. Personally, she liked a good novel and a cowboy film. But that must not be all. She found that what was most interesting was to read about the lives of clever and important people and the biographies of people who had made their mark in the world. They must cultivate a taste so that they could open the doors of literature and so get access to the whole world. In this cultivation of personal character they must seek to serve their generation, and think less about themselves.” 
The National Amalgamated Monthly, Aug. 1924.
There, now. Grumble no more. See Tom Mix at the movies, read of clever and important people, such as Horatio Bottomley and Lloyd George, who have made their mark in the world. Cultivate a taste for the literature of a Nat Gould, and all will be well.
The Settler.

Undermining Arthur (1983)

From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Arthur, never one to shun publicity, has been at it again:
Arthur Scargill unveiled a blueprint for his perfect Britain yesterday. It would be a sort of golden age of socialism . . . A Utopia for ordinary folk. Money would disappear — he couldn't quite explain how — and there would be an end to "greed and avarice” (Daily Mail, 19 September. 1983).
It’s not often that we get to hear this sort of talk from the famous bovver boy from Barnsley, as he is less-than-affectionately portrayed in the press, so let us indulge in a little more:
When socialism arrived there would be no need for people to own and control industry. But everyone would be allowed to own his own house and garden. And, of course, in a society with an abundance of goods and facilities, there would be no need for money. (ibid)
These views, explained Arthur to an incredulous David Frost on TV-am, are not just his own — they happen to be "enshrined” in the rule book of the National Union of Mine workers.

So, could it be that the socialist movement with its objective of a moneyless world of common ownership, has had all along and unbeknown to all concerned, a staunch and powerful ally in the shape of the NUM? Well, no. Attractive though the thought may be, there is no evidence to suggest that capitalism is being undermined from deep within the bowels of the earth. In the glare of daylight the reality is rather less romantic. When it comes to the election crunch, mineworkers like every other group of workers at the present time will overwhelmingly vote for one or other of the political parties of capitalism. In this case one would imagine that the main beneficiaries of this lack of class consciousness would be the Labour Party which, most assuredly, does not have the slightest wish to bring about the abolition of the money system. And it is to the Labour Party that the NUM is formally affiliated and of which Arthur Scargill is himself an active member.

Indeed, just as we began to detect something like the faint gleam of gold in Scargill's musings, down came the predictable flood of silt. In socialism: “Everything would be nationalised . . . Industry, banks and insurance companies. The lot” (ibid). Though it was not made clear what we are to deposit in our local socialist bank if not money — sticks of rhubarb from the local kolkhoz, perhaps? — at least we now know why “there will be no need for people to own and control industry". The answer is, of course, that the state will take on itself this awesome responsibility, leaving the people free to potter around in all those lovely homes and gardens we are so graciously to be “allowed" to own. In short, while we are to get utopia, the state will have to settle for the ulcers.

Needless to say, no self-respecting left-wing militant in the Labour Party will want to hear of the holy cow of nationalisation being disemboweled in this unseemly fashion. And yet nothing can be more acutely embarrassing than to confront the argument that state ownership has nothing whatsoever to do with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production that socialists seek. Surely, he or she will protest, these are one and the same thing.

How ironic, then, to find a state insisting quite explicitly, and not just demonstrating through its actions as all states do, that such a distinction does indeed exist. Doubly ironic when that state calls itself a “Marxist” regime. We do not know whether Arthur is aware of the recent pronouncements of fellow “Marxist”, the Ethiopian leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam. While in Britain we can only look forward to a "golden age of socialism” in Ethiopia, it would seem that all this has now come to pass. In an address to the nation marking the ninth anniversary of the bloody coup that overthrew Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu complained bitterly that his economic goals were not being met because of wastage, laziness and theft and because “nationalised properties are being treated as if they have no owners” (Guardian, 15 September 1983).

So you see, there is not a lot to choose between Great Britain Ltd and Messrs Bloggs and Co. But then we shouldn't really have to tell Arthur this. You would have thought that much was patently obvious considering who it is that sits on the opposite side of the miners’ negotiating table.
Robin Cox

Political Prisoners (1969)

From the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prisoner of the Year is one of the world’s most unwanted distinctions. But unpleasant business though it is to get your name in the running for it, there is no lack of candidates for the award.

The Prisoner is selected each year by the International Assembly of Amnesty (in 1968, as it was Human Rights Year, they chose three), from all those all over the world who are “prisoners of conscience”—in other words people who are imprisoned or detained because of political, religious or conscientious opinions or by reason of their colour, race or language.

It is clear that this gives a pretty wide field of selection. Political prisoners exist in all parts of the world from Peru to Malaysia. Leaving aside the obvious places like Russia, we have Burma where hundreds have been held without trial since the coup d'etat in 1962, India which has some two hundred detainees under the Defence of India Rules and, on the other side of that particular conflict, Pakistan which holds several hundred under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Some of the prisoners in Pakistan have been inside for over ten years.

Among this unhappy mass there are many cases which are outstanding for their harshness and cynicism. In Algeria Bachir Hadj Ali, once secretary of the Algerian Communist Party, is in very bad health after being tortured. He was arrested in 1965. The Cuban government have not tried David Salvador, but he is to serve a thirty year stretch .for his part in the July 26 “Labour Wing”. Ajoy Bhattacharya and Santosh Banerjee have both been held without trial by the Pakistani authorities since 1958.

Political prisoners exist under all sorts of governments. States which profess to be “communist” have them and so do those which claim to be “anti-communist”. Many of the new independent states, now governed by parties which once said they were fighting against the colonial powers for their freedom, are now showing that the word, must not be interpreted too literally. Malawi, Uganda and Indonesia are only three examples of this. Another is Kenya, where the government of Jomo Kenyatta continues to hold, without trial, the Somali politician Yasin Mohamed Ahden, who was actually arrested by the British before Kenya became independent and “free”.

Political prisoners have committed no crime in the usually accepted sense of an assault upon property or people, although there have been famous cases in which they have been charged with “crimes against the people” which, the prosecution has alleged, were intended to have horrific results. (Amnesty refuses to adopt prisoners who advocate acts of violence). Their offence is in either refusing to recognise the authority of the state (like conscientious objectors in countries which insist on compulsory military service) or in being a possible threat to a government’s political hold upon a country.

Thus many political prisoners are themselves politicians— like Patrick Peter Ooko in Kenya, and Chibingwe in Malawi. Perhaps, if they were out of prison and in power, they would themselves put away their opponents. Political imprisonment is in fact a sort of apprenticeship to power and there is nothing new in the prisoner turning gaoler. Kenyatta and Banda are only two who have done this.

There are other prisoners who are not politicians. Many obscure people are suffering for the offence of refusing to conform to a political dictatorship. East Germany imprisons anyone discovered helping people to leave the country illegally. Tunisia, after sentencing medical student Ben Jennet to a savage twenty year stretch, has followed this up with a 14 year sentence on Brahim Razgallah for protesting against it.

All of this may seem on the face of it to be worth protesting about. Amnesty is one of the organisations which concern themselves with this, adopting prisoners, agitating for their release and so on. Amnesty says that it works for “freedom of opinion and religion all over the world”, which brings us down onto the old, familiar grounds of idealism which, however sincere it may be, tries to obscure the basic, material realities of the world. Idealism offers no more than a collection of sickening stories, a desire to do something about them—but a stifling bewilderment about any effective solution.

To look at political imprisonment on the face of it is not enough. What are the basic realities? We might start at the fact that political prisoners are international. Even Britain, which has as much political freedom as any country, roped in the Fascists in 1939—when they were protesting their eagerness to help the war effort of British capitalism—and held them without trial. Mistakenly or not, the government regarded men like Mosley as a political threat.

This suggests that the conditions which cause prisoners of conscience are also international. The world today is dominated by property society—in most cases by its most highly developed form of capitalism. Property society is an affair of privilege, of a minority holding a higher economic and social position than the rest and asserting their superior standing through a coercive State machine.

Whoever controls that state controls power. That is what capitalist politics are all about. In some cases control can be won only through a popular vote, which means that politicians have to try to beat their opponents by means other than imprisonment (by Enoch Powell, for example, menacing Heath with his appeal to the rudest of mass deception). In some—but not all—of such countries there are other legal rights, existing alongside the popular franchise, which make political imprisonment rather difficult for a government to pull off.

But there are other countries which are in a different case. In some—for example South Africa and Rhodesia— the electoral system is rigged with the result that a crushing majority of those with the vote are in favour of the suppression of political freedom. In others there are either no elections, or elections in which effectively only one party can put up candidates. In such countries the acquiescence, apathy or support of the majority enable the government to restrict or even crush the opposition by the simple method of putting away anyone who speaks up against it.

Let us be clear that no one suffering political imprisonment today is a threat to the fundamentals of property society. They are in gaol not because they protest against capitalism but because they oppose the particular clique which at any one time holds power over the system. Some are actually former members of a government which now imprisons them—like Grace Ibingira of Uganda, who was once President Obote's right hand man. Others are religious, like Bishop James Walsh, a Roman Catholic who has been serving a 20 year sentence in China since 1958. Some, like Amnesty Prisoner of the Year Nina Karsow (now free), are patriots; ”... I know for certain,” she wrote to her mother, "that our own country is not just a place on a map. but that it lives within each of us.”

What this means is that if, by some miracle, every political prisoner were suddenly released the whole rotten business would soon start all over again for the simple reason that the cause of it would still be there. There can be only one guarantee for the protection of human liberty and dignity and that is something beyond the horizons of all the individuals and organisations which agitate on behalf of the prisoners. The guarantee is to end the social system which by its very nature, and in fields other than the political, denies freedom and dignity and to replace it with one which treats them as its first concern.

If we say, then, that Socialism will be the society of freedom which will not know such disfigurements as political prisoners we are inviting an obvious question. Why are there no socialists in prison for their opinions? The answer is equally obvious. At the moment Socialism is not a threat to worry a capitalist state. But the socialist movement grows through the developing consciousness among workers—and remember that no government can impose its will upon a consciously unwilling majority. So when Socialism is a threat, and the ruling class would like to do something about it—it will be too late.

(We are grateful for the help which Amnesty gave in the preparation of this article.)

Editorial: The Russian Invasion of Finland (1940)

Editorial from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Russian troops invaded Finland the official excuse put forward by Molotov in a broadcast reproduced by the Daily Worker (December 1st, 1939) was that the “ only purpose of our measures is to ensure the security of the Soviet Union, and especially Leningrad." He repudiated annexationist aims, laid the blame on the “unfriendly” Finnish Government, and discovered provocative acts, “including even artillery firing on our troops." He did not deny that the Russian Government was demanding concessions from Finland, but put against these the offer of certain territory in exchange.

To provide an excuse and a background for the argument that Russia was not at war with the Finnish people, but only with their Government, the Russians set up a puppet Government of their own and claimed that they were only defending themselves against Powers who were using Finland as a jumping-off ground for an attack on Russia.

Within a short space of time the excuse took on a more concrete form, and by December 23rd the Daily Worker was telling its readers that “the capitalist governments are now fully launched on their war of intervention against the Finnish People’s Government and the Red Army"—so history was made (and falsified) in the approved imperialist manner.

This flagrant act of “ Power-Politics" lost the Bolshevists the sympathy of many workers abroad who had still tried to believe that Russia was not playing the same cynical game as the rest of the Governments. It also placed a strain on the Communist propaganda machine. Molotov had said there was no war with Finland, so the Daily Worker went to extreme lengths to report the conflict day-by-day without ever using the word war! Its writers felt sensitive about the slaughter of Finnish workers in the name of Peace and Socialism, so at first they passed off the bombing of Finnish towns as the invention of corrupt journalists.

Later on, when the war extended and Russia declared a blockade of Finland, Mr. Harry Pollitt gingerly touched on the matter of helping people by blockading them and slaughtering them (Daily Worker, December 27th, 1939). After saying that Russia had protested against the Anglo-French blockade of Germany and is helping to break that blockade by supplying foodstuffs to all countries who desire it, Mr. Pollitt said: —
“The Soviet Union’s blockade on Finland will not impose any starvation on the Finnish people, for the Soviet Union will look after them. ...”
If Mr. Pollitt were to stop and consider the inevitable consequences of waging war, including the bombing of ports and railways and the forced evacuation of territories by civilians, he would realise that even granted the will to “look after” the Finnish people, the Russian Government cannot carry out the pledge Mr. Pollitt makes on their behalf.

Mr. Pollitt admitted that, “People are being killed in Finland, and we won’t run away from this fact"—but he did run away from it, by saying, “the responsibility is that of the Tanner and Chamberlain Governments.”

In the meantime, while Russian shells and bombs were slaughtering Finnish workers, Herr Hitler was sending to Stalin his “best wishes for your personal well-being and a happy future for the nations of our friends, the Soviet Union” (Times, December 22nd). To which Stalin replied: “The friendship of the peoples of Germany and the Soviet Union, cemented by blood, has every reason to be lasting and firm” (Manchester Guardian, December 27th). This is rich, coming from the man whose main charge against his fellow-Bolsheviks, who were done to death in the purge, was that they were in the pay of the Gestapo.

From 1919 to 1939
Communists try to maintain that Bolshevist policy at home and abroad has remained essentially unchanged through all the vicissitudes of the past 20 years. They affect to see no disharmony between the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the earlier support of the League of Nations and the Socialist Peace Front. Actually, they do themselves or their predecessors an injustice in thus trying to square cynical acts of aggression with their former statements of principle. Their present actions in Poland and Finland are not in conformity with the Bolshevist declaration of 1917-18: “No annexations, and withdrawal of occupying troops”; “Restoration of any lost political independence.” Nor can they be squared with Litvinoff’s statement at Geneva on September 21st, 1937: —
An aggression remains an aggression whatever the formula beneath which it is disguised. No international principle can ever justify aggression, armed intervention, the invasion of other States, and the violation of international treaties which it implies. —(Manchester Guardian, December 13th, 1939.)
What has caused the Bolshevists to commit an act which provokes feelings of disgust and resentment even among workers who were their sympathisers? There are several reasons, one of which goes right back to the time when the Bolshevists first seized power in Russia.

The more immediate reason is that the Russian Government undoubtedly does feel that from a strategic standpoint Russia would be better placed if various strong points in Finland were under Russian control. The capitalist world being what it is, the Russian Government has reason to fear that, at some time or other, some foreign Powers may want to make use of Finland, as the Allies did in 1918, and as Germany has done since. There may, in addition, be some substance in the statement by the Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (December 9th, 1939), that Russia wants the Finnish nickel mines as her own resources have proved inadequate.

The other reason is inherent in Bolshevist principles and tactics. The Bolshevists never based their case on the need to win over a majority to an understanding of Socialism. They did not believe it necessary or possible to do so: or more accurately, they knew it to be impossible at the moment, and so they built up a case on assumptions which made it unnecessary. They thought that they could introduce Socialism by minority action and dictatorship. They thought they could “build Socialism in one country” and offset the political backwardness of the mass of the workers by means of terrorism at home and military force abroad. But these ideas were not born fully developed; they have gradually grown and hardened under the pressure of events, and from time to time other ideas have held partial sway.

Back in 1918 Litvinoff, in his book, “The Bolshevik Revolution” (page 53), was unable to decide whether Russia could count on the help as well as the sympathy of workers abroad. He had been disappointed in his expectation that “the Germans would not dare to march against Socialist Russia for fear of their own people,” but, he went on to say, “ If only they could get a respite, the Russian Socialist Republic would be firmly established and would, in due course, even without actual fighting, exercise such a potent influence over the peoples of other countries that the German rule, not only in the territories forcibly separated from Russia, but also in Germany and Austria themselves, would be destroyed. This view carried the day, and the future will show to what extent it was right.”

Events did not come up to Bolshevist expectations. That was bound to happen because the workers of the world were not “ripe for revolution,” as Lenin mistakenly supposed. Lenin’s blindness was handed on to Stalin when Lenin died, and as late as November, 1932, the British Communists, under orders from Moscow, could be saying that, “the masses in Germany are turning towards the revolutionary way out under the leadership of the German Communist Party.” (Manifesto issued by the C.P.G.B.) Actually the German workers were turning to Hitler.

When Hitler came to power, established his position and carried through German re-armament, the Bolshevists had to reconsider their foreign policy. They had to ask themselves again to what extent they could rely for help on workers abroad. After a compromise in the shape of the League of Nations policy under Litvinoff, they took a drastic turn by signing the Pact with Hitler, and are now going all out for the policy of building themselves up militarily in border countries, but in so doing they have vastly weakened their hold on the sympathy of workers in other countries.
Was it possible for history to have taken any other course? Was it possible for the Bolshevists to have remained loyal to their first conception of world revolution based on the minority-led movement of the non-Socialist masses ? They may have wished to do so, but they had committed themselves to the fatal course of trying to impose Socialism by means of dictatorship on an unready world. Lenin and Litvinoff may have had good intentions, but history proves them wrong and endorses their Socialist opponents, who maintained at the time the impossibility of achieving Socialism by dictatorship, war and terrorism. Taking, on this question, an attitude similar to that of the S.P.G.B., the late Karl Kautsky showed where they were wrong in his “Terrorism and Communism,” written in 1919. He concluded his criticism of dictatorship and its resulting terrorism and suppression with the following passage : —
“ It (Socialist development) will not proceed on the lines of a dictatorship, nor by means of cannons and guns, nor through the destruction of one’s political and social adversaries, but only through democracy and humanity. In this way alone can we hope to arrive at those higher forms of life, the working out of which belongs | to the future task of the proletariat.”

Sting in the Tail: Empty talk (1994)

The Sting in the Tail column from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Empty talk

The myth that fascism/racism can be defeated by violence is persistent. This is demonstrated by Fighting Talk, the juvenilish paper published by Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Action (AFA).

The Autumn/Winter issue is certainly full of fighting talk: one bunch of would-be nazis are mocked because an intended victim "was unscathed and alarmed only by the gentleness of the attack. Have [they] been washing their hands in Fairy Washing Liquid?".

Various skirmishes are reported - "the BNP got kicked to fuck"- while the Anti- Nazi League and Anti-Racist Alliance are jeered at for being too timid.

There is also a report that Ibrox Stadium, home of Glasgow Rangers FC, is "held by the BNP". True enough, Ibrox is a notorious recruiting ground for the BNP and similar groups, so how does this square with the boast that:
"AFA has keen attacking fascists wherever they raise their ugly heads for the last seven years . . . "
The truth is that AFA has been conspicuous at Ibrox by their absence, and in this at least they have shown that they are not altogether daft.

Idiot’s delight

While MPs were over at the House of Lords for the State Opening of Parliament in November, left-wing firebrand Dennis Skinner and a few chums enjoyed a jolly jape in the empty House of Commons.

Skinner sat in the Speaker’s chair and presided over a charade in which the Monarchy and the House of Lords were "abolished".

Alas, some cad sneaked on Skinner and he was pompously ticked-off by Speaker, Betty Boothroyd for this "travesty of the proceedings of this House".

Abolishing those two hoary institutions has been the left-wing’s favourite dream for over a century without it ever dawning on them that this would in no way alter the exploitation of wage by labour by capital.

Wake Up, Greens

Those who believe that the threat to the environment can be dealt with within the capitalist system are hopelessly wrong.

These dreamers imagine that politicians whose task it is to run the production for profit system can be persuaded to recognize and act on the danger which pollution brings to the planet.

Sometimes they are encouraged in this belief by the utterances of politicians. In 1991 a "green" Michael Heseltine said countries that:
"regulate for high environmental standards create opportunities for their own industrial base. Governments will increasingly use their regulatory powers to insist on and, where necessary, impose such standards."
(Independent on Sunday, 14 November)
Now Heseltine is leading the drive to de-regulate industry and the government has:
"forced the National Rivers Authority to relax standards at many sewage works. It is also relaxing air pollution controls on some industries."
The government’s aim is to remove regulations "that may be a burden to business", or, put another way, to put first the maximization of profits and to hell with the environment and anything else which gets in the way of that.

Name dropping

The government’s decision to allow ITV companies to merge had the pundits speculating on who was likely to swallow-up who. So far Carlton has bid for Central and there is no doubt that there will be some familiar ITV company names missing from our screens.

So capitalism’s drive towards bigger and fewer economic units continues, with the big ITV companies arguing that they must become bigger if they are to meet the competition from other industry giants.

This process is happening in every industry - electronics, brewing, airlines and package holidays are examples, and this whether or not the bought-out company’s name survives. A full-page ad in the Herald (1 December) revealed that 59 stores with such prominent names as Binns, Arnotts, Barkers, David Evans, Army and Navy, Hammonds, Jollys, Dingles, Schofields, Cavendish House, Howells, Rackhanis, Dickins and Jones, Kendalls and Frasers are all owned by The House of Fraser.

As the ad in the Herald put it, "What’s in a name?”

Peace Breaks Out

Today it’s peace talks over Ulster and Bosnia, yesterday it was peace talks over Palestine, Angola, etc. All this talk about peace and yet
"There were a record 29 big wars last year, bringing to more than 23 million the death toll in conflicts since the end of the second world war, according to the annual report released yesterday by the independent Washington-based research group, World Priorities. It said 11 substantial new wars broke out in 1991 and 1992." (Guardian, 10 November)
The capacity of politicians and others for talking about ending wars is surpassed only by capitalism’s capacity for providing them.

More Peace News

In March 1991 George Bush, then President of the US, told Congress a week after the Gulf War ended, "It would be tragic if the nations of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf were now, in the wake of the war, to embark on a new arms race".

Tragic or not, that is exactly what is happening. In November 1993 six Gulf defence ministers watched all the aircraft manufacturing nations (including the US) put their fighters and bombers through their paces at the Dubai air show.
"Despite low oil prices and unaccustomed budgetary pressures, the Gulf States, which never stop worrying about big bad neighbours like Iran and Iraq, give no hint that they are about to curb their appetite for new hardware: estimates of potential sales over the next decade range as high as $65 billion. The United Arab Emirates' reported desire to purchase 80 fighter aircraft, worth up to $10 billion, has set the aerospace industry in the West and in Russia salivating. ’
( Time International, 22 November)
Like Bob Dylan once wrote, "Money doesn’t talk, it swears".

So you want Inflation to be stopped? (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The great majority of workers think how happy they would be if only someone would bring inflation to an end. Sooner or later their wish will be granted, but it will not make them happy.

Ending inflation means ending the continuing rise of prices caused by currency depreciation, by far the largest single element in the thirty-six-year rise which has brought the price level now to more than five times what it was in 1938.

Of course the people who wrongly attribute the rise of prices to workers’ wage claims, or to taxation, or to the greed of manufacturers and shopkeepers, or (like Peregrine Worsthorne) to the “spirit of evil”, will not believe it possible to end inflation. But depreciation of the currency is due to none of those causes. It is the result of excess issue of the currency, something for which the Government alone is responsible. Inflation has gone on since 1938 by the action of successive governments, the wartime Tory-Labour-Liberal coalition, and the various Labour and Tory governments since 1945. What governments do can be undone by governments. It has happened twice before in this country: on a small scale after the Napoleonic Wars, and on a bigger scale after World War I.

The increase of prices since 1938 has been faster at some times than at others but latterly it has speeded up: in the past twelve months about 10 per cent., with expectation of a faster rate in 1974 (added-to by other factors such as harvest failures and the price squeeze by the oil producers). One guess for 1974 is 14 per cent. If that rate continued the price level would double every five years.

During and after World War I prices rose much faster than since 1938. In the four-and-a-quarter years of the war the price level more than doubled, but the really fast increase came afterwards. Between June 1919 and November 1920 the rise was 35 per cent., equivalent to 25 per cent, a year. Capitalism was having a short-lived boom, unemployment was very low and wages were rising faster than prices. Trade union membership, 8,337,000 in 1920, was at a record level never reached again until after World War II.

Then the government decided that the time had come to end the wartime currency depreciation and get back to “normal”. On the recommendation of a Committee of Inquiry, the Cunliffe Committee, the Bank of England was instructed to limit the note issue. This was in December 1919. For a time prices went on rising but five months later wholesale prices began to drop, and retail prices followed nine months after the new restriction was applied.

Wages began to fall, by a total of 33 per cent, in 1920-24: prices fell rather less. The trade unions lost nearly three million members. Unemployment jumped from 400,000 in 1920 to 2½ million in 1921 and then stayed at well over a million until the next crisis in the nineteen-thirties when it reached nearly 3 million.

The trade unions did their best to resist the reduction of wages but could not prevent it. In 1921 the number of days lost through industrial disputes was nearly 86 million, far more than in any subsequent year except the year of the General Strike. (In 1972 it was under 24 million days.)

It is interesting to consider why currency depreciation was halted after World War I and not after World War II. One very important factor has been the change of attitude among most politicians and economists, brought about by the popularity of Keynesian economics. Under the guise of “government management of the economy” to promote expansion and “full employment” it had become respectable, and other means such as wage and price controls were sought to keep price rises within limits. Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times (3rd Jan. 1974) calls it the policy “to print enough money to preserve employment”. Writing about the past two years he says:
The Government, Confederation of British Industry and TUC were all agreed that we should make another “dash for growth” — by which, of course, they meant large Budget deficits financed by printing money. The only instrument for containing the strains to which such a policy always gives rise was the fig-leaf of “incomes policy”.
While all the time protesting about rising prices, the trade unions and TUC have been solidly behind the policy for the past thirty years.

It was only when unemployment, after pushing upwards for a decade, went over the million mark in 1972 that Enoch Powell’s policy of repeating what was done in 1920 began to gather backing among employers and Tory MPs.

So where do the workers stand? They can have unemployment with inflation or unemployment without inflation. (In the period 1920-23 when prices were coming down fast in Britain they were shooting up fast in Germany, with unemployment reaching peaks in both countries!)

Of course the workers, when they so decide, have the alternative of getting rid of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

HBOS: the Horse That Bolted (2016)

From the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 2001 the former Halifax building society which had turned itself into a bank merged with the Bank of Scotland to form HBOS. In October 2008 HBOS failed and was merged with Lloyds Bank in which the government took a major share. The Bank of England and the new Financial Conduct Authority have now issued a 400-page report on The Failure of HBOS PLC (HBOS).
The Report says that HBOS made some unwise lending decisions, investing disproportionally in commercial property and stakes in businesses (hindsight is such a benefit). Even currency cranks who think that banks have the power to conjure up the money they lend out of thin air concede that a bank can get into trouble by making bad loans. What they cannot accept is that a bank can also fail through not being able to secure the funding behind its loans. Some currency cranks (those who think that for a deposit of £100 a bank can lend many times that amount) accept, it is true, that if deposits fall a bank has to cut its lending, but not that every loan has to be funded. The Report, however, takes it for granted that this has to be the case. In his Foreword Andrew Bailey, one of the Bank of England’s Deputy Governors, says that the Report is
‘the story of an institution that became unsustainable through its poor risk management, in respect of the credit risk on the assets side of its balance sheet, and on the liabilities side in respect of the vulnerability of its funding. These are, of course, the fundamental building blocks of banking’ (emphasis added).
Those running a bank have to ensure both that the loans they make will be repaid and that the source of funding for these is secure. As essentially financial intermediaries, banks get their income from borrowing money at one rate of interest and re-lending it at a higher rate.
Accessing ‘wholesale financial markets’
After the merger, the Report says, HB0S pursued a policy of rapid growth, aiming to make a return on its capital of 20 percent. This involved increasing its lending but to do this it had also to increase its funding. Banks have two main sources of funding: what is deposited with them (in the jargon ‘retail’ borrowing) and the money market (‘wholesale’ borrowing). Deposits from customers are considered safer but they cannot be increased at will, if only because of competition for them from other banks and from building societies. It is easier to have recourse to the money market, i.e. borrowing from other banks and financial institutions. This is considered more risky because the interest rate is less predictable – if this goes up it squeezes the margin between the rate a bank borrows at and the rate at which it re-lends – and in a financial crisis can dry up.
To try to grow more in pursuit of greater profits, HBOS had increasing recourse to the money market:
‘The rapid expansion of its balance sheet placed pressure on HBOS’s ability to fund itself. HBOS’s retail funding struggled to keep pace with the Group’s lending growth, with customer deposits growing at an average annual rate of 5% a year during the Review Period, compared with a customer loan growth rate of 10%. As a result, HBOS increasingly accessed wholesale financial markets as a source of funding, raising its wholesale borrowing from £187 billion at the end of 2004 to £282 billion at end-2007.’
Bankers and their regulators use as a measure of a bank’s dependence on the money market the ‘loan-to-deposit ratio’ (which some currency cranks misunderstand as a measure of how much a bank can lend without having to cover it with funding, whereas it is actually a measure of what proportion of loans are covered by ‘wholesale financial markets’ over and above what is covered by customer deposits). The Report says that by 2008 HBOS’s loan-to-deposit ratio had reached 192 percent; in other words, it was lending nearly twice as much as its deposits, the rest coming from ‘wholesale financial markets’. This, the Report notes, was second only to that of Northern Rock.
When the financial crash came and the money market froze HBOS, like Northern Rock, couldn’t renew its borrowing from it except at impossibly high rates and so couldn’t renew the coverage for all its loans, with the result, the Report records, that:
‘By the end of September 2008, HBOS was no longer able to meet its needs from the wholesale market and was facing a withdrawal of customer deposits.’
Yet another example of how the Report, written by practical bankers, takes for granted that a bank ‘needs’ to have funding for its loans. No nonsense here about a bank being able to conjure money to lend out of thin air since, of course, if it could, why would it need to go the money market to try to get funding? On 1 October HBOS was bailed out by the Bank of England.
The new paradigm that wasn’t
The top management of HBOS may well have taken more risks than most of its rivals but at the time they were acting as profit-seeking, capitalist enterprises always do in a boom – assuming that it will continue. In his Foreword Bank of England Deputy Governor Andrew Bailey writes that ‘both the strategy and operation of HBOS, and its supervision by the FSA, were creatures of the time’ and that what happened took place ‘against the backdrop of almost uninterrupted growth over a long period and the rapid development of financial markets’. The Report elaborates:
‘Halifax and Bank of Scotland merged during a period of heightened corporate activity, in the middle of an economic cycle that had begun in the early 1990s. UK domestic economic growth had been relatively steady since the recession of the early 1990s, resulting in an extraordinarily long period (around 60 quarters) of continuous expansion. The growth in the financial services sector was more than twice as fast as the economy as a whole, averaging 6% per annum in the decade preceding the crisis, and increasing its share of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) to around 10%. Confidence in the future prospects of the economy was reflected in both bank and non-bank equity prices, which rose steadily from the start of 2003 until 2007. As the benign conditions persisted for longer and longer, many perceived that a new paradigm of economic stability had been established. ‘
One of the many who ‘perceived’ this, in fact shouted it from the rooftops, was of course Gordon Brown who, as Chancellor, proclaimed the end of the boom/slump cycle. He even recommended HBOS’s chief executive, James Crosbie, for a knighthood. When the crash finally came, and exposed him as a latter-day King Canute who imagined that he could command how the capitalist economy worked, he had become Prime Minister.
Andrew Bailey writes that ‘the criticism in the Report is not that management failed to predict that there would be a global financial crisis’ but in effect that’s it what it is. How else does he expect a commercial bank, which is a profit-seeking capitalist enterprise like any other, engaged in a particular business activity, to have acted in conditions that were ‘benign’ for profit-making?  To have held back and let its competitors gather more of the hay while the sun shone? He must have more experience of how capitalism works than to be that naïve. HBOS did not become ‘unsustainable through its poor risk management’ but because the boom ended. If the boom hadn’t ended HBOS would have survived and no doubt more knighthoods would have been handed out.
The story of the rise and fall of HBOS is a particular case of how all capitalist firms behave when faced with profit-making prospects they ‘perceive’ are going to continue. They go for it but have to face the consequences when, as a result of the collective activity of all the competing firms involved, these conditions come to an end due to overproduction (or, in case of banks, over-lending). It’s happened many times before under capitalism and is a regular feature of the system. It will happen again, even in the field of banking despite the regulations now being put in place after the horse has bolted.
Adam Buick

Ealing Branch May Sales Drive (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ealing branch’s sales drive of the Socialist Standard during May was very successful; a total of 636 copies were sold, of which 283 were to new subscribers reached by the door-to-door canvass. The attendance of canvassers was always good—a number of members tried their hand for the first time and found the work a most agreeable appetiser for their Sunday roast beef and Yorkshire. New areas were canvassed in Brentford, Hounslow, White City, Eastcote (worked by one member on his own) and East Acton. 170 copies were sold to people who have been taking the STANDARD on the door long enough to count as “ regular readers.” 

Canvassing is not all hard work; or rather, it is work with a spice to it Half-a-dozen comrades working on a street is an exhilarating sight; going from door to door, chinking the money, noting addresses for a call next month. Aqd there are good times afterwards, in the café or the “pub” with long talks and the atmosphere of comradeship thick like smoke in the air.

There are moments of humour too. Some time ago the STANDARD appeared with an article about football on the front page. One Ealing member, canvassing this issue, was confronted by a young woman. “I'll ask Dad if he wants it” she said, turning to call, “Dad! Do you want a book about football?” “No, I don’t!” came Dad’s reply, "You know I’m only interested in politics!”

Two members were covering a block of flats on a main road one windy morning in May and they agreed to split up and meet outside when each had finished his stint. The one who finished last, on coming out into the street, was surprised to see his companion darting and stooping this way and that in the middle of the road, avoiding the traffic with a palpitating turn of speed and agility. First reactions were that he had cracked under the strain (he is the branch literature secretary) and had taken leave of his sanity. But before the ambulance could be called he returned, breathless and oily, clutching a grubby scrap of paper on which he noted his sales for the morning. A passing wind, he explained, had whipped it from his hand into the road and it was valuable enough to take a few risks to recover!

All the effort in canvassing sifts itself down, over the years, into a hard core of regular readers. The Ealing member who has been taking the STANDARD to some of our older subscribers is almost a member of their families —they invite him in for coffee, lie takes them presents of sweets, has even visited them in hospital. They are good friends of the party, who really read our literature and. as one woman said, “... sit round the fire of an evening talking about the STANDARD.” An average of hours of work went into reaching each of these people. But they are overwhelmingly worth every second of it.

Socialism versus Reformism (1967)

Book Review from the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Incompatibles: Trade Union Militancy and the Consensus Editors: R. Blackburn & A. Cockburn. Penguin Special, 6s.

This is a collection of essays written in defence of trade unions and of militant trade unionism and, as such, is valuable. Three of the essays, those by Blackburn on 'The Unequal Society", Coates on “Wage Slaves" and Paul Foot on “The Seaman’s Struggle", are well worth reading. The contributions of trade union leaders, Jack Jones, the No. 3 in the TGWU and Clive Jenkins of ASSET, are, as might be expected, boring.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always argued that working class problems arise from the monopoly over the means of production of a privileged few. No kind of action, whether trade union or social reform, can solve these problems as long as this class monopoly remains. Trade union action, though necessary and fully supported by the Socialist Party, is limited in what it can do. It is a continuous rearguard action to maintain living standards and working conditions against the downward pressures that capitalism generates. Social reform action, that is, reformist political action, is just as limited. It tries to deal with effects while leaving the cause untouched. So that no sooner is one problem supposedly solved than another arises. Welfare measures amount to little more than a redistribution of misery. The Socialist Party, while not opposed to social reforms as such, has always opposed reformism because of the retarding effect it has on the development of Socialist understanding and organisation.

We had worked all this out before the Russian Revolution and before the rise to power of the Labour Party. Now others are having their doubts but they have the benefit of the failure of reformism.

Thus Blackburn’s opening essay, which is a mine of information on wealth and poverty in Britain, confirms our case completely. He begins:
Britain today is not a significantly more equal society than when the Labour Party was brought into existence by the unions over sixty years ago.
Nationalisation has made no difference as “all public property is hopelessly mortgaged to the private sector.” The unions have to run faster to stand still, that is, to maintain the share of wages and salaries in the national income. The welfare state, with its taxes and doles, is much the same:
The evidence suggests that redistribution within social classes is more significant than redistribution between them. Single adults,, and couples before they have children, tend to subsidize larger families and to finance state pensions for the old.
Blackburn is forced to this conclusion:
There seems to be some parallel between the effect of union activity and the effect of political representation of labour through the Labour Party. When circumstances are favourable both can obtain real advances for those they represent But in the longer term the logic of a private enterprise system erodes these gains and re-establishes the former relative position. It seems that the power of the labour movement in capitalist society is never a static quantity. This power must expand until it encroaches on the property system, or it will be subject to erosion by the unchallenged momentum of capitalist accumulation.
Perhaps, but Labour has never had, nor sought, a mandate to encroach on the property system and the working class have not been prepared to tolerate continuous Labour rule. Not surprisingly, they don't like having their living standards cut by wage freezes.

Once the limitations of trade union and social reform action are recognised, what then? The only barrier to the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production is the absence, in the working class, of the desire and will to make this change. Thus Socialists must face the question of how best they can help the evolution of socialist understanding. Capitalism itself is our main ally. It will, in the end, give rise to a desire to change society. This will not, of course, be an automatic process since men make history. Socialists can, by their actions, either hasten or retard this process. The policy of the Socialist Party, which we hold is the best way to hasten the process, is to organise as an independent political party whose sole objective is Socialism. The purpose of this party must not be to lead the working class but to do all it can to put across to them the idea of a new society, a classless democratic world community. Anything else, such as supporting reform parties, nationalisation, Russia, war or nationalism, only delays the process. And this is where those who contribute to this book fall down. They may know the limitations of social reform action but they don’t know the dangers in Socialists supporting it.

Ken Coates tries to defend Socialists having a reform programme. To understand Socialism, he says, requires “a high level of abstract intellectual activity" while the “lives of \the workers are in every sense practical and particular". Or, in plain English, the workers won’t understand Socialism if it is put to them straight. In fact, of course, Socialism is a very simple idea which can easily be grasped by all. As Coates sees it, the problem is to bridge the gap between what Socialists want and what workers now want:
Between the idea of a fair day’s pay and the goal of the abolition of the wages system, it is clearly necessary to place a third demand. This, anchored in fairation, and acceptable within the logic that prevails, leads to the understanding that nothing short of a new structure, a new social order, will meet the workers' aspiration to a fully human status.
This is the case for Trotsky’s transitional programme or for the older idea of revolutionary reforms (reforms that are supposed to develop working class political understanding). But a reform programme is a reform programme, no matter what the theory behind it We would challenge the assumption that such a programme would hasten the development of Socialist understanding. We feel that it would rather have a delaying effect. One result is that those who accept this theory, logically, find themselves in the traditional reformist party working to get their reform programme accepted. Thus, as members of the Labour Party, they become political opponents of Socialism.
Adam Buick